After 25 years of civil war in Afghanistan, today progress towards a peace process is increasingly seen as central to securing a just and stable future. But to date, there has been little analysis of what a process might actually look like.
As part of the research for a new Accord publication on Afghanistan, Conciliation Resources brought together 23 experts from the Afghan government, media and human rights groups, and Afghan and international academics and policymakers, in a workshop to explore challenges, priorities and opportunities for building peace.
Findings from the workshop will help to inform the focus of the Accord publication, which will be a resource to guide policy and practice for peace in Afghanistan.
Workshop discussions are summarised in a new Accord Spotlight report, Processing peace in Afghanistan.
Nine priorities and challenges for peace in Afghanistan emerged from these discussions:
1. Peacemaking in perspective
Previous experiences of transitions from conflict in Afghanistan bring important lessons for the shape of future talks, such as the need to take into account the political and economic incentives of all parties involved in continuing violence.
The vocabulary of peace in Afghanistan is disputed. This has allowed some to claim to be pursuing peace while not engaging with the practical challenges that this implies, or to use ‘peace initiatives’ as cover for activities with unrelated or contradictory objectives.
3. Distributing power
Conventional approaches to power-sharing in Afghan peace initiatives have not taken into account Afghans’ multi-layered identities. Unpicking Afghan understandings of inclusion and power-sharing and how these relate to stability and conflict resolution is key to supporting effective, inclusive change.
4. Inclusion costs
What are the implications of talks with the Taliban in terms of inclusion? Senior government positions already saturated to accommodate various interest groups. Who would make way for new arrivals, and how would potential losers be incentivised or compensated?
5. Understanding divisions
Understanding the complexity of divisions that underpin conflict is important for identifying appropriate responses. For example, splits among different Taliban factions could both facilitate and hinder potential talks.
6. Politics of the opposition
The workings of Taliban politics are poorly understood. A more precise knowledge of the Taliban’s internal dynamics, and its various priorities for peace and governance, is important for achieving progress towards a viable political solution.
7. Re-centring the regional stage
An analysis of regional and international interests and roles in both the conflict and peace is important, to anticipate spoilers and identify supporters.
8. Hekmatyar precedent
The 2016 peace agreement with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has been heavily criticised for granting impunity to a warlord accused of great brutality in the war. But Afghan public reaction has so far been mixed. And while the government intended the agreement to signal to the Taliban its readiness to negotiate, there has been little concrete progress towards dialogue since.
9. Processing peace
A major block to progress is the current dearth of detail about what a peace process between the Afghan state and the Taliban might actually look like, and the specific mechanisms through which peace initiatives might be pursued. Afghan and international parties and actors need to identify appropriate models or entry points for peace initiatives, and to anticipate the political and material demands, compromises and risks that such processes require.
Read the workshop report: Processing peace in Afghanistan.